AC/DC, “Black Ice” AC/DC’s move to release this album exclusively through Walmart and Sam’s Club may be untraditional, but the seemingly ageless Australian rock combo mostly employs its same tried-and-true formula on the audio side of the “Black Ice” equation. A number of songs unabashedly reference iconic 1980 album “Back in Black”: “Wheels” echoes that set’s “Givin’ the Dog a Bone,” while first single “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train,” with its gang chorus vocal, nods to “What You Do for Money Honey.” “Big Jack” offers major-key thrills, and “Anything Goes” ought to sound great blaring at an arena near you. But at 15 tracks (four of which extol the base virtues of rock music), the album overstays its welcome, making deviations like the old-school blues of the title cut, the slide guitar licks on “Stormy May Day” and the sparse “Decibel” all the more entertaining.
Labelle, “Back to Now” The 32 years since Labelle’s last studio LP seem to evaporate within the first few measures of “Candlelight,” the opener of this reunion album. One factor could be that Nona Hendryx started writing the sultry and explosive song before the group disbanded in 1976 — enabling the unique soul/gospel/glam rock style of Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Hendryx to carry forward through the decades, with the production help of master era-melder Lenny Kravitz. Dance track “Rollout,” with vocals and production by Wyclef Jean, is decidedly more modern but maintains the Labelle signature as a female independence anthem. Somewhat schmaltzy but earnest “Tears for the World,” along with Rosa Parks tribute “Dear Rosa,” prove that Patti LaBelle still makes lyrics about starvation and strife sound sexy. A powerful 1970 live Labelle recording of Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” closes the set, underscoring just how much of its original horsepower Labelle has retained.
Lee Ann Womack, “Call Me Crazy” Just when you thought she couldn’t get any better, Lee Ann Womack surprises in a big way. “Call Me Crazy,” the follow-up to her highly lauded “There’s More Where That Came From,” is Womack’s best album yet. The set includes a pure country duet with hero George Strait and a cover of his “The King of Broken Hearts,” but Womack doesn’t need Strait’s formidable shoulders to lift her up. Haunting single “Last Call” is song-of-the-year material on a number of levels: songwriting, vocal performance and production. Indeed, the first-time combination of Womack and producer Tony Brown is overdue and magical. “Either Way,” about a loveless marriage, is brilliant, and “Solitary Thinkin”’ proves Womack has more soul than just about any other country female vocalist.
Hank Williams III, “Damn Right Rebel Proud” Hank Williams III has always respected his lineage, but he gives it even more love at the outset of his poignant and pugnacious sixth album. “The Grand Ole Opry Ain’t So Grand” not only forwards a vehement argument for reinstating his grandfather, the late Hank Williams, but also shouts out some props for Bocephus — father Hank Williams Jr. — despite their admittedly difficult relationship. The rest of the aptly named “Damn Right Rebel Proud” mines a rootsy kind of country and digs even deeper into Hank III’s life and psyche, mixing the darkness of the confessional “Candidate for Suicide,” the weepy “Stoned and Alone” and the twangy, galloping “3 Shades of Black” with the high-speed go-for-broke of the almost bluegrassy “6 Pack of Beer.” Hank III has his punk and metal sidelines, but he’s country to the core and has every right to be rebel-proud of it here.
Deitrick Haddon, “Revealed” The nine-album oeuvre of Deitrick Haddon could almost be cross-marketed as an over-the-counter antidepressant. After a decade-plus of pushing the edges of gospel, his imagination and invention remain as engaging as ever. Haddon’s interweaving of R&B, rock and pop — with a side of retro-funk, thank you — continues to use tradition more as a point of departure than a reference. “Where You Are” is soulful, techno-tinged rock, “I’m Alive” is a hook-heavy gift of hope, and “Love Him Like I Do” — with guest turns from Ruben Studdard and Mary Mary — is a jaunty, top 40/R&B offering of thanks to God. It’s a testimony of Haddon’s commitment, to his faith and his artistry, that he continues to use both as mandates for excellence.
The Sea & Cake, “Car Alarm” The Sea & Cake has dabbled in electronic grooves and Brazilian lilt throughout its seven sleek albums, but the band has never quite let it rip the way it does on “Car Alarm” tracks like the title cut and “Aerial,” which practically blast out of the speakers. There’s a sense of urgency here not seen since the Chicago institution’s earliest work. But the added pep is still refracted through the band’s uniquely loose-limbed vibe and Sam Prekop’s soft, soulful vocals. Although one can rarely discern what Prekop is saying, his cadence and phrasing undulate in perfect synergy with the gently shifting tempos. Prekop and guitarist Archer Prewitt are also more locked in than ever; check the lightly distorted jam on “New Schools” for proof. And on “Weekend” and “Down in the City,” the group shimmers with the best of its indie rock peers.
Deerhoof, “Offend Maggie” Last year’s infectious “Friend Opportunity” presented Deerhoof in Technicolor, the band distorting pop to create a musical Candy Land dotted with explosively vivid experimental landmines. “Offend Maggie” takes a more grounded, monochromatic approach. The addition of second guitarist Ed Rodriguez shifts the focus from synth-manufactured atmospheres to stripped-down primal rock, with power chords wrapped in crackling overdrive. Vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki turns her attention to philosophical matters, with songs tackling birth, God and the afterlife. That’s not to say Deerhoof has stripped off all its quirky, futuristic drapery. Rather, there’s a certain stark gravitas that permeates the affair, and instead of giddy euphoria, “Offend Maggie” aims for Zen-like deliberation. Along with everything else, Deerhoof can strike deep, too.
Bombay Dub Orchestra, “3 Cities” Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay, the endlessly inventive duo that animates Bombay Dub Orchestra, tracked their new album in Mumbai and Chennai in India and in London. It was an ambitious undertaking that has yielded an entrancing follow-up to their brilliant 2006 self-titled debut. The Hughes/Mackay vibe is South Asian dub executed with cinematic sweep. Their music, as heard on “Junoon,” “Strange Constellations” and “Map of Dusk,” is often an extremely unique sort of chill that’s equally beholden to Indian traditional forms, South Asian underground and a Western symphonic sensibility. On “Spiral,” however, the insistent beat and a dynamic, swooping string arrangement lays on something a little more earthy. The dub exoticism of “Monsoon Malabar” is underwritten by a throbbing electronica groove beneath Pradeep Pandit’s multilayered vocalese, reminiscent of late-’80s Sheila Chandra.